To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird question

Problems with To Kill a Mockingbird
Jocelyn Jazmen Jocelyn May 07, 2015 12:39AM
I have a few bones to pick with the author.
First, and perhaps someone could help me out by posting a comment, but was/is it common for people in rural Alabama to call their fathers by their first name? I found that annoying, and more importantly inconsistent with the author's effort to portray Atticus Finch as a noble man of integrity. For me, it shows disrespect for a parent. So if his own kids didn't respect him enough to call him father, dad, paw, papa, whatever, and the father himself is lacking any self-esteem by allowing his children to address him like that, how is the reader expected to hold him in high regard? To me, Atticus comes off as a well-meaning, but ineffectual and eccentric small town lawyer, who despite his high ideals and the pearls of wisdom occasionally spilling from his mouth, is a failure, even at raising his own kids.

Secondly, I'm confused with what the author is trying to say about justice in America during this period. We have the trial of Tom Robinson, where the word of the lowliest white trash is taken over the word of the 'Negro'defendant, basically to save the faces of white people in general. A black person is not even allowed to feel sorry for a poor white person because that's considered a humiliating insult. And so, in a court of law where the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the system fails and an innocent man is condemned. And this of course is an important point to bring out, accurately reflecting the nature of racism at that time.
Fine, I applaud Ms Lee.

But then, towards the end we are given another situation. Boo Radley, a recluse who never comes out in the light of day (apparently because he's an albino) stabs the man who had falsely accused Robinson of raping his daughter, and who is now bent on killing Atticus' children as revenge against their father who humiliated him during the trial. In this case, the sheriff fabricates a story that Ewell,the attacker who gets stabbed, actually fell on his own knife, exonerating Boo Radley of any crime - and this is done with Atticus' consent.

So what is the moral here? That the judicial system is a failure, and it is better to AVOID the law and actually fabricate evidence to obtain true justice? And is the fact that Boo Radley (who by the way is the 'mockingbird' which to kill is a sin) is a white man and Tom Robinson a black man (who went through the due process of law) significant?

Can anyone help answer these questions?

Monty J (last edited May 07, 2015 10:54AM ) May 07, 2015 07:21AM   2 votes
Jocelyn wrote: "Atticus comes off as a well-meaning, but ineffectual and eccentric small town lawyer, who despite his high ideals and the pearls of wisdom occasionally spilling from his mouth, is a failure, even at raising his own kids.."

There's no mention of a mother, so we're to assume that there is none in the household. So we have a male single parent assisted by the efficient black housemaid, Calpurnia. (This household situation is autobiographical, as Lee's mother was mentally ill and had little to do with her upbringing.)

In a one-parent family, children often take on adult responsibilities much earlier than usual. In many ways, Scout shows evidence of being exceptionally smart and mature for her age, for example when she fights bigger boys to protect Dill from bullying.

I knew a guy in junior high school whose parents were blind. He called them by their first names. His mannerisms were adult in so many ways that he stood out from our cohorts, probably because he never had a normal childhood. He had taken on adult responsibilities as a child in caring for blind parents.

By allowing Scout to use his first name, Atticus demonstrates his approval of her mature ways and that he's not so weak that he feels the need to be addressed in a some superficial conventional way. He is a humble, intelligent, courageous, principled man. Neither his children nor anyone else, other than the Ewells, showed him disrespect--even during the riot. Quite the contrary was the case.

In Maycomb, the word "Atticus" meant something special even before the trial, as evidenced by the Sheriff's deferral to Atticus to shoot the rabid dog because of his phenomenal marksmanship.

The word "father" would have been demeaning. He was Atticus, and no other name or title could bear more respect in Maycomb.

Monty J (last edited May 07, 2015 10:57AM ) May 07, 2015 07:35AM   0 votes
Jocelyn wrote: "And is the fact that Boo Radley (who by the way is the 'mockingbird' which to kill is a sin) is a white man and Tom Robinson a black man (who went through the due process of law) significant?"

I don't see anything significant in that. Boo's mental/emotional disability puts him in a similar plane as the disabled (one-armed) Tom Robinson. They're both minorities with disabilities and deserve protection and equal rights. The sheriff, who represents true justice, showed similar concern for both.

Lindsay Seddon I think another reason they made up the story about him falling on his own knife was because they couldn't be sure whether it was Boo Radley or Jem wh ...more
Sep 10, 2015 12:10PM · flag
Lindsay Seddon Sorry not Robinson, the man who accused Robinson
Sep 10, 2015 12:12PM · flag

Firstly, one of the HUGE motifs/symbols in TKM was the recurring message that mockingbirds can't be killed/hurt because they never hurt anyone. Boo seemed to have somewhat of a mental disorder, which is why he hardly spoke even when he did leave the house, and acted extremely awkward. He would have been torn apart having to go through all the court processes and be in public and in daylight all the time with people coming up to him and no doubt being rude. He had such a negative image cast about him, yet he hadn't even been judged on his actions, because he had none. Boo is portrayed very much as a mockingbird in this novel. Secondly, the reason why Boo stabbed and killed Mr. Tate was because Mr. Tate was raving drunk and coming after Atticus' kids in order to KILL THEM. This is what would nowadays be classified as a self defense case. So, while I don't think killing a man is ever fully justified, Boo was trying to save two helpless kids.

Jocelyn - why are you annoyed that Scout calls her father Atticus? It may not be how you spoke/speak to your parents, but that does not mean that it is wrong, or that it is showing disrespect or that Atticus is a failure at raising his own kids.

What you are doing is applying your own belief system to Atticus and Scout and expecting them to think in exactly the same way that you do. For me, that is a mild form of prejudice. Scout calls her Dad "Atticus" because that's the way they have arranged their relationship. It shows us that Atticus is unconventional and that he treats other people with respect. He is treating his daughter as an individual in her own right by allowing her to address him as if they were both adults.

That's the whole point about tolerance and respect. We need to be able to respect someone's point of view, even if we don't share that point of view.

The townsfolk think that Tom Robinson was guilty because he was black. Scout thought that Boo was a monster, because she didn't know him. You thought that Atticus was a bad parent simply because he allowed Scout to call him Atticus. That's the whole point of TKAM - our prejudices make us jump to conclusions without seeing the truth.

The legal system in the 1930s was flawed. It was eventually improved by men like Atticus taking a stand to fight prejudice.

Does that help?

Monty J (last edited May 08, 2015 05:43PM ) May 07, 2015 07:31AM   0 votes
Jocelyn wrote: "So what is the moral here? That the judicial system is a failure, and it is better to AVOID the law and actually fabricate evidence to obtain true justice?"

Yes. The point is very clear that our judicial system has flaws, which should not be a surprise to anyone after what happened recently in Ferguson, MO; Charelston, SC; Baltimore, MD and other places. Here's another:

Nearly every month we hear of some long-incarcerated person, black usually, being released due to exculpatory evidence coming to light, usually DNA evidence. Sadly, many have been found innocent post-execution.

Flaws in the system of justice are sometimes worked around by members of law enforcement who adopt a well-known extra-judiciary procedure called "see-no-evil." It happens every day.

The final scene in the film Chinatown gives a reverse example of See-no-evil, showing injustice rather than justice because the cops allow a wealthy patriarch to get away with murdering his daughter.

See-no-evil can work either way.

First, Jocelyn, you did say that you were annoyed, as in "I find this annoying..." Second, you are wrong when you say Atticus doesn't take an interest in his children. He reads to Scout so often, she has learned to read herself before she enters school. And Monty, there are several mentions of the mother. She died when Scout was two, prior to the events in the story. Atticus, without an adult companion in the family, speaks to his children the way he would speak to a peer. This is supported in a conversation he has with Uncle Jack, in which he says one should always be entirely open with children and not try to cover up the truth to protect them. Because of the way he speaks to his children, they have grown up speaking to him in a like manner. Where do we learn the words 'daddy' and 'mom' anyway? The kids have always heard their father referred to as Atticus. He doesn't seem they type to instruct them to call him something else, so why would they think they should.

As far as the sense of justice for Boo, isn't that part of the point of literature, to not have any clear answers, but to leave some questions for the reader to ponder, as we are doing here? Heck Tate's decision is questionable, but based on what he thinks is the right thing to do. We may disagree, the author reserves judgment, but Tate makes his decision based on his own moral code, which is based on a different paradigm than our own. Recall that Atticus first thought it was Jem who stabbed Ewell, and although he was well aware of the flaws in the justice system, he accepted the fact that Jem would have to be tried. He thinks Jem is mature enough to handle it. But Boo, Boo would not be able to stand the stress. Boo shows some signs of autism, and at the very least, agoraphobia. He would be driven mad by all the proceedings, even if he was found innocent.

One of the things the book seems to emphasise is that society finds it very difficult to see past the cultural mores of the day. To see the needs of people & their real worth & to deal with the really important issues at hand in an objective way. Everyone in the book had some degree of difficulty with this, as do we all.

back to top